News: In The Zone

Miami Beach Drops Study Of Form-Based Zoning.

Potential study of a new approach to zoning in Miami Beach has been nixed by City Manager Jimmy Morales.

According to a note from Morales sent to City staff:

“Team,

Please refrain from any further work on this subject. Let’s focus instead on the specific solutions for North Beach and Washington Avenue. If any community group invites you to a meeting to discuss FBC, please decline on the basis that, at the direction of the City Manager, the Planning Department is no longer studying that option.”

The “subject” in question if form-based zoning, a variation of Miami Beach’s approach to zoning and a key proponent, however, of the Miami 21 proposal across the causeways in the City of Miami.

While the issue is controversial to some, Acting Planning Director Tom Mooney said, “We never really started anyway because the first thing that would have to happen is for the city commission to issue an RFP for a consultant, because changing code would be an enormous undertaking.”

Mooney explained that the City of Miami Beach’s current zoning regulations were adopted in 1989 and have been amended over the last 25 years. “Some of it even conflicts with other parts of it,” said the veteran City administrator.

Mooney described Miami Beach’s approach as “prescriptive.”

“You look at a specific place, see the zoning district it is in and that is it,” he said. “It didn’t take into consideration things like facade and appropriateness relative to neighboring structures, etc.”

Form-based zoning would have permitted more factors to be considered, but Mooney said that there are many public misconceptions about the approach.

“There is this misconception that form-based zoning is only for cities with lots of open land,” he said. “But it can apply to built-up cities if written carefully. But it takes a lot of work. We would be looking at two years of work to do this.”

Mooney said that Planning and Zoning staff have been looking at ways to simplify and to “clean up” existing Miami Beach code for some time. “Internally, we have been talking about simplifying codes and making them more user-friendly. We would have to have a consultant.”

Not everyone, however, believed that form-based zoning would be in the best interest of Miami Beach.

“It didn’t emerge as a city commission agenda item until early this year,” said Frank Del Vecchio, a prominent city activist who has conducted extensive research on form-based zoning. “It did not originate with any of the city commissioners. It did not originate with the City Attorney. When I got wind of this a few months ago, I asked a senior official, who referred to Alton Road advocates as the source of the idea. I don’t know if it originated with them or if it originated with the city administration and they enlisted the Alton Road Alive group to advocate for it.”

Del Vecchio said the potential change was linked to the Miami 21 initiative on the mainland.

“Developers and their attorneys would have a leg up on ordinary residents,” Del Vecchio said. “The Miami 21 ‘form-based’ zoning code runs 601 pages, has no index, and no on-line search function. A printed copy is not available to buy from the City of Miami Planning Department. It was enacted two years ago and it is still inaccessible to the ordinary person. If this were to be the case in our city, developers and their attorneys would have a flying head start on members of the lay public. That is scary.”

However, Mooney said that Miami Beach’s potential exploration of form-based zoning had nothing to do with Miami 21.

“Ironically, Miami 21 has reduced the presence of big buildings there, and there has never been any discussion here about increasing FAR or increasing development rights,” Mooney said. “We embarked on this as a way to make zoning simpler and more user-friendly.”

The official statement from the City of Miami Beach in response to SunPost’s inquiry was: “We’re re-prioritizing our land-based code goals focusing on North Beach and Washington [Avenue].”

City staff indicated that when zoning overlays for North Beach and Washington Avenue are completed, Miami Beach might return to examine the potential of form-based zoning.

About Michael W Sasser

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